well being

What do you call meaningful, enjoyable, lasting well-being? Joy, happiness, or something else?

by Scott Crabtree

“Who wants to be happy? Joy is what it’s all about.”

“Happiness fades. I want meaning in my life.”

“I don’t care about happiness; it’s a transient feeling.”

Since founding Happy Brain Science in 2012, I’ve heard many statements such as the above. People seem to think they are saying they don’t believe in our mission at Happy Brain Science. So I want to clear this up: most of us agree far more than we think we do.

A couple of years ago at Happy Brain Science we surveyed 100 people and discovered that many of us define ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ in opposite ways. For some of us, ‘joy’ is a deep, meaningful state of well-being, whereas ‘happiness’ is a fluffy, short-lived feeling. For the rest of us, it’s the opposite. That’s right, about 1/2 of us believe that ‘happiness’ is deep and meaningful, and ‘joy’ is a temporary feeling without meaning or staying power. Your joy may be my happiness. My happiness may be your joy.

Scientists skirt this issue by using their own term: “subjective well-being”. This refers to both positive emotions, which are short-lived, as well as a longer lasting sense of meaning and satisfaction with life. Because we ground everything we do in science, we mean this mix every time we use the word ‘happy’. Some of what we teach in our programs and products is intended to get you a long lasting sense of meaning and satisfaction with your life. Some of what we teach can help you experience short term positive emotions.

Short-lived emotions and showering

Some are resistant to pursuing positive emotions. I hear things like “Why would I pursue positive emotions if the benefits are short term?” Well, the benefits of showering and brushing your teeth are fairly short-lived as well. That means you should shower and brush your teeth frequently, not give up on them entirely!

The same is true for happiness activities. If the benefits of social interaction are short-lived, it doesn’t mean we should give up on connecting to other people. It means we should work to connect with others frequently.

Short term happiness bring long term benefits

Positive emotions are a wonderful experience, so I believe feeling good is its own reward. But even if you disagree and were only interested in longer term meaning or productivity, science suggests you would benefit from positive emotions. A variety of studies suggest that happier brains do better work in most circumstances. So a short-term boost in your mood will result in a a boost in your brain function. That will help you achieve results that are meaningful and satisfying in the long run.

Experiment with your own life

As always, I encourage you to experiment with your own life. Scientific research gives us recommendations based on averages from large groups of people. You aren’t an average; your brain is unique. So let science be your guide, but experiment with your own life and see what short-lived and long-term benefits you reap. If you aren’t sure what to try, pick one of the free activities listed in the Tools and Hacks section of www.HappyBrainScience.com.

As always, I’d love to hear how it goes, and how we might help.

Here’s to your happiness–or joy, or subjective well-being, or whatever you want to call it.